Denton: Magic-Pacers Postgame Analysis

By John Denton
April 13, 2011

ORLANDO – Orlando Magic superstar center Dwight Howard isn’t much of a football fan, but back in February he was drawn to the plight of the Green Bay Packers, a team that struggled at times during the regular season, but caught fire late and ultimately won the Super Bowl.

With Orlando winning four of its last five regular-season games heading into the playoffs, Howard hopes now that his Magic can follow the Packers’ example of a team getting hot at the right time and roll all the way to a NBA championship.

The Magic closed a sometimes rocky and bizarre regular season Wednesday night with a 92-74 defeat of Indiana and immediately cast an eye toward Saturday’s playoff opener against the rival Atlanta Hawks. Orlando is hoping that their inspired play down the stretch, combined with some reinforcements returning to health in the form of J.J. Redick and Gilbert Arenas, will mean another long playoff run this spring.

``We feel good and we’re ready to go,’’ Howard said after smashing the Pacers for 13 points and 13 rebounds in 26 ho-hum minutes of mostly garbage time. ``It’s playoff time, it’s the real season. We just want to dominate starting Saturday. It’s time for us to step up and play better basketball. Not to put any pressure on ourselves, but we just want to step up our play.’’

After back-to-back 59-win seasons, the Magic (52-30) had to battle through a season full of injuries, suspensions, illnesses and two blockbuster trades that flipped the roster upside down. But Orlando has managed to beat Milwaukee, Charlotte, Philadelphia and Indiana down the stretch while battling the East-leading Chicago Bulls down to the wire without Howard available.

The belief now, according to Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, is that if the team plays well it should be good enough to dispatch the Hawks in the first round and do something special in these playoffs.

``If we play well, if we’re healthy and play at a good energy level and play to our potential, we can beat anybody,’’ Van Gundy said. ``I think our chances are as good as anyone’s. But we have to play well. We’re not going to do it turning the ball over a lot. But I like our chances because we have some different options to score. We need guys playing at a high level, that’s what it’s going to come down to. We’re anxious to get started, I know that. Our guys have been waiting for this for a while, I know that.’’

The Magic were beaten in three of the four meetings this season against the Hawks, but that record should come with an asterisk. The 91-81 loss on Dec. 20 came two days after the Magic traded for Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark and before the team had practiced. And the 85-82 loss on March 30 came with the Magic having just eight healthy players.

``Defensively, the Hawks are a lot smarter than they were. They have a lot of weapons and they have a lot of guys who have gotten better,’’ Howard said of the Hawks. ``Obviously the chemistry is there because they’ve been together for a long time. It’s going to be a good series and we’re looking forward to it.’’

Ryan Anderson pumped in 14 points for the Magic, while Hedo Turkoglu added 13 points and five rebounds. Brandon Bass had 12 points and six rebounds, but he left the game late in the third period with what looked to be a mild groin injury.

Indiana forward Danny Granger, who didn’t play Wednesday because of a sore ankle, is a big believer in the Magic and Howard come playoff time.

``I think they can go pretty far,’’ Granger said of the Magic. ``Dwight Howard is such a presence inside. Honestly, I’d vote for him over Derrick Rose for MVP.

Defensively, he alters shots and he’s such a force inside. He does so much for that team and with him in the middle I think they can go back to the Finals again.’’

Here is a look back at what went right, what went wrong and some final observations from the regular-season finale: